How to avoid getting five university rejections

UCAS track

Applying to university is exciting but it's also a big project to manage when you're busy studying too. Receiving a rejection from a university on UCAS track can be a real heart-sinking moment which can knock your confidence for the rest of an important year. But it doesn't have to be that way, especially if you take your time, play to your strengths and think strategically about your choices.

Multiple rejections happen when applicants are too ambitious or haven't done their research, including ignoring entry requirements. The more effort you put in now and the more honest you are with yourself about your abilities, the more likely you are to receive five offers.

Here are the five things you need to do to avoid five university rejections.

1. Not all university courses are the same

The best thing to do is book out some quiet time and read all the course descriptions. It’s best not to rush, this is a big investment you’re making so take your time. It might sound like common-sense but seriously not all history courses are the same (or any other subject). No university course has a universal syllabus so make sure you research the course modules for all three year including how the course is assessed.

Be curious
Don’t just look for a degree in the subject that you enjoyed most at college. There is a huge range of courses available. A good place to start is to read up on course subject that you feel comfortable with academically and then read through the module content of related courses, the likelihood is that you’ll find a course that you really like and one that you can’t wait to study

Don’t apply for 5 completely different courses
Writing a personal statement will be pretty much impossible. But it also suggests that you don’t really know what you want to study. Your personal statement will not convince any admission tutor who will pick up immediately on the fact that you really aren’t committed to their subject.

Be open minded about the universities you are applying for
Just because a university is asking for high grades it does not mean that a university offering a similar course with lower grades is worse. Try not to be blinded by league tables or the prestige of the “Russell Group” universities. The brand-worth of a university will mean nothing to you if you hate your course or where you’re living.

Try to visit a selection of universities – campus and city-based, a use league tables to give you some pointers on which universities are highly rated for the subject you think you’re interested in.
Visiting the university, meeting the lecturers and other students will tell you everything you need to know, especially in terms of how you feel and whether you think you’ll fit in and enjoy studying there for three years. Seriously, this is time when you really need to listen to your gut instinct.

entry requirements

2. Swot up on entry requirements

GCSE grades
Make sure you know the exact entry requirements for each course. Especially for competitive courses like medicine, law, computer science and economics. These means checking out any GCSE grades you might need to have [e.g a B grade in Maths].
If a university are asking for exact grades they mean it and it doesn’t matter if you have high predicted grades for A-level. If you don’t meet the GCSE requirements your application is very likely to be automatically rejected.

Do you study the preferred course?
Some universities mention that they prefer applicants to have studied a particular course. If you aren’t currently working towards this qualification and have no intention to then this is a high-risk option for you. If you are dead-set on applying, make sure you contact the admissions team and ask the question, it’s better to feel disappointed now rather than receiving a rejection.

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A high grade does not bump lower grades
If you have an A*CC prediction, it’s not ok to apply for AAB courses. The A* will not be the only grade the admissions team look at. What they want to see is consistent ability across all three subjects. If you don’t have the evidence to back that up, it’s not worth applying because you’ll end up with another rejection.

What’s the deal with grade ranges?
If the course page states something like "typical offer AAA-ABB", it usually means that the lower grade set is used for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds -it’s sometimes referred to as a "contextual offer". If you do not qualify for this, assume that the higher grade set will apply to you. If you are not sure what the criteria are for these contextual offers, email the uni and ask, before you apply.

Is it worth asking my teachers for higher predicted grades?
Feeling stressed out and under pressure to meet an offer is really tough. If you receive an offer remember that you do not have a place at that university until you have achieved those grades. Making this university your firm choice with entry requirements that are perhaps two grades higher than you’re original predictions is going to hard work and potentially impossible to achieve. Think ahead to A-level results day, how will you feel if you haven’t made the grades and see on UCAS Track that you’ve been placed into Clearing? If that’s not what you want, then think very carefully about what your options are.

Things to think about if your predictions are higher than your actual AS grades
If there is a big gap (more than one grade) between your AS grades and predictions and your academic referee (most likely to be your teacher) doesn’t explain explain convincingly why there is such a difference, the admissions tutor will assume that this is an inflated prediction. If there is no evidence that you can work consistently at the required level you won’t receive an offer.

More on TSR:
Why excellent GCSE grades could get you an unconditional offer
Five reasons why you should go to an open day
Do universities actually read your personal statement?

3. Think carefully about the reality of your choices

You’re going to be studying your subject for the next three or four years. Do you love it enough?
Do not choose a university or course just to fill up the form. If you don't want to go there, don't choose it. Remember, each choice could be the only offer you get. You do not have to make five choices - if there are only four courses you are actually interested in, leave it at four.

Making your university choices
Ideally this is what your five university course choices should look like on UCAS:

  • 1 'risky' choice - just above your predicted grades
  • 2 or 3 - at your predicted grades
  • 1 or 2 - below your predicted grade

Not only will you be likely to end up with more than one or two offers, but you will also have a range of offers. This is important when picking a firm and insurance choice later on in the year.
If you have no 'lower' offers at that stage you have no fall-back choice to ensure you still have a uni place if things don't go to plan in August.


Spread your choices
Don’t pick five high risk choices; a better balance is one high, three medium, and one ‘low’, bearing in mind that typical offers consistent with your predicted grades may still be high risk depending on how competitive the course is.

Oxford, Cambridge and any subject at any uni asking for an A* grade is high risk simply because Oxbridge and A* courses always reject more people than they accept.

Even if you are predicted A*AA and can write a top personal statement, it does not mean you will automatically get an offer. Any university asking A* will be able to be very picky about who they take. Remember that unfortunately there are heaps of other people out there with predicted A* grades, not just you.

Be strategic
Remember that you do not have to fill in all five choices when you submit your application. If you applied before the 15 January deadline you can add choices in later (this does not apply to any courses with a 15 October deadline). This can work well if you want to take a risk with some of your choices, as you may have decisions from them in time for 15 January and you can then target your remaining choices.

Don’t assume you can swap courses once you have a place
Don’t apply for any course at your favourite university in the hope that you can swap to something else that is more interesting or a course that you don't currently have the grades for at the start of term. If a university wants AAA, they will still want it at the start of term, even if there are spaces. Secondly, if the swap doesn't happen, you could get stuck on a 3 year course you never actually wanted to do at all.


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4. Make sure your personal statement is as good as it can be

The fundamental question you should answer in your personal statement is: "I want to study this subject at university because..."

Try to be original in your personal statement, but at the same time don’t go in for fancy language that just isn’t you. Simple language is usually just as effective, and it is important to appear confident and capable without sounding arrogant.

University websites quite often have general guidance on what they want to see in your personal statement as well as subject specific guidance (often called admissions statements). Double check if this is available, this advice will tell you the particular things admissions staff are looking for, and the importance they place on each factor.

Make sure you include work experience if it is relevant to the subject you want to study

For vocational degrees such as teaching, architecture, and for any medicine, nursing or healthcare subjects, you need relevant work experience. Without this your application will get put straight on rejection list. You need to demonstrate that you have had enough experience and exposure to this work area to be making an informed, mature decision regarding your career. Doing paid or voluntary work on weekends or during holidays, or work shadowing a relevant professional, or considering a practical gap year, is essential for this type of application.

Expert personal statement advice:
Writing an excellent personal statement in 10 easy steps
Create your Personal Statement with our brilliant builder tool
Everything you need to know about applying to uni

5. Consider advice from your parents and teachers

Parents and your teachers do know you quite well and may understand you better than you think. You do not have to take their advice, but at least stop and think about whether they just might have a point. If a teacher tells you that applying to Durham is pointless, this can be really hard to take, but find out why they think that and consider what will be best for you in the long run. It’s probably easier to feel disappointed now than when you receive a rejection.

But be firm
If your parents are pressuring you to apply for something that they think leads to a "proper job" or at a particular university and it's not what you want to do, be firm. Ask for the help of your teachers or referee to help you explain to your parents why you don't want to follow the path they have in mind for you. In the end, it's your life, and your education, so you must take responsibility for it.

School reputation
Schools can sometimes get obsessed about how many of their students get into 'Oxbridge' or 'Russell Group' universities (they use this to market themselves to potential parents) without actually thinking very hard. If you want to go somewhere else to do your degree, stick to your decision. It’s you going to university and paying for it for three years, not your head teacher.

Expert applying to uni advice:
How to end your personal statement with a bang - advice from universities
How to decide on your firm and insurance
Five steps to making your five uni choices